The Roswell Award vs. Max’s birthday parties

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Simon Kassianides (formerly of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and a James Bond villain in Quantum of Solace, now directing and starring in his new Kickstarter-funded film “Trust No One”) and me, 2015

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Back row: David Dean Bottrell, comedy duo Charles, David Blue, William Hawkins, Gates McFadden, Catherine W. Cheres, Armin Shimerman, T. Lucas Earle, Patricia Tallman, Rosalind Helfand Front row: Jasika Nicole, Donna Glee Williams, Simon Kassianides, Melissa Yuan-Innes

One year ago, I was a Roswell finalist. You may remember my 2015 agonizing about spending the money to go to L.A. when I had a 1/6 chance of winning $1000. You can read about it here and here. I didn’t win, but I had a fabulous time.

And this year…

Dear Melissa,

Congratulations (again!)!

On behalf of SCI-FEST LA, I’m excited to announce that your story “Humans ‘N’ Hot Dogs,” is a finalist for

The Roswell Award for Short Science Fiction

Your story is one of just six finalists chosen from nearly 250 submissions received from around the world. Your story will be presented in an Awards & Staged Reading event featuring celebrity guest readers on Sunday, May 22 at 7:00pm at the Acme Theatre in Hollywood.

What? No way.

I ran through my usual reasons not to go. It will cost money. It will harm the environment. I should stay home with my kids. I should stay home and work. I should stay home and write. It’s too close to Max’s birthday, which is tomorrow.

Then I decided I wanted to go. Even though I’m sure I’m not going to win. “Humans ’n’ Hot Dogs.” C’mon. A comical piece doesn’t usually take top prize.

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But what about Max’s birthday? Up until now, Max has had fairly extravagant birthday parties. Not in terms of renting out the Ritz, but in terms of time and sweat. When he was four, I made Thomas and Annie and Clarabel train cakes. DSC01525

When he was seven, he decided he wanted the solar system for his piñatas, so I set about making nine celestial bodies and told him, “Max, we’re going to skip Pluto. It’s not officially a planet anymore.” He said, “Awww! But I like Pluto!” So I felt like I had failed him, even though when his friend Lucas told his mom and my friend, Jessica, “Max is having nine piñatas,” she said, “Oh, Lucas, I’m pretty sure Max isn’t having nine piñatas.” But of course, he was. And that made me realize that not every mom would make the solar system for her kid with her own hands.

The past two years, we’ve done water fights and a piñata. For his ninth, we even had a small contingent of girls. But this year, he just wanted to go see the Angry Birds Movie with a few friends. So I thought he might not notice if I went to L.A. for the Roswell Awards.

When I asked Max, he started crying.

Oops. I gave him a big hug. We agreed that I’d fly down on the Saturday instead. That way, I’ll be home for his real birthday *and* Angry Birds. Because you only turn ten once, and even though he ignores me when his best friend, Jacob, is around, it’s cool that he still loves his mom and wants her at his party. That won’t happen for too much longer.

Why do I want to hit L.A.? There were a few things I didn’t have a chance to do the last time. Well, I mean, many, but on my last night, I met Neil from Buzzfeed, and he said I could tour the office. That is WAY cool to me, because…Eugene Lee Yang. I like the Try Guys (the American Ninja Warrior episode hooked me), I like Buzzfeed Violet, I like lots of things. But in the end, Eugene.


My 2015 Roswell friend, Kevin, had invited me to tour Caltech. And Human Remains, the fifth Hope Sze novel, is set in a lab. The ZINN lab said I could stop by. I also reached out to Bill (Dr. William L.) Stanford, whom I’d met through the UOHS conference. He just told me that he’d give me a tour of his Ottawa stem cell lab when I get back! Yeah!

And when I told John Burley, my new ER doctor-author friend, that I was flying down, he said, “It’s only a short flight from San Jose.”

IMG_7234So that makes me feel socially sophisticated, that I have an author-doctor friend flying down to meet me in L.A. for the Roswell Awards. Of course I also feel environmentally guilty, but right now, I’ve decided to travel a little when it calls me. If you want to learn more about John and his cricothyroidotomies, you can read my interview with him here or his official website.

In the meantime, I made homemade vanilla ice cream cake, using whipped cream, condensed milk, and real Madagascar vanilla beans for Max’s birthday. I hope it’s good. I love you, Max! Happy tenth birthday!

My Year of Yes: Kali Yoga for My Birthday


For my birthday, I’ll be teaching two yoga classes. It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do. Googling around just got me a lot of people wanting to sell yoga birthday parties to kids (“What kid would want that?” asked my husband. He is a yoga heathen. Ignore him) and a few people who attended classes on their birthdays, because some studios will comp you, but nothing about choosing asanas for your own birthday.

Then I found this article and quote by Beryl Bender Birch: “According to some traditions, on your birthday you should do one drop-back from standing to Urdhva Dhanurasana for every year of your life.”

Well, that’s not going to happen. But it got me thinking about wheel pose/Urdhva Dhanurasana/chakrasana, that thing where you’re on your lying on your back, push up on all fours, and either look like a super cool arch or, if you’re like me, you’re just hanging out on top of your head, wishing you could push up.

So I started researching that, and I came across this video by Dr. Melissa West. What? Another Canadian Melissa doctor who does yoga? Yes, but she’s a blonde who’s a Ph.D. in Madonna, so you probably won’t mix us up. And she’s how I figured out the perfect theme for yoga on your birthday: Kali.

Kali is one scary-looking Indian goddess. She’s got three eyes. She’s got four arms, one of which holds a sword and another holding a freshly-severed demon head. She’s black, so she won’t be starring in any Aryan films soon. She’s naked except for a garland of fifty human heads and a girdle made out of severed human hands. And you usually see her standing on top of her husband, Shiva. He’s lying on the ground, and she’s got her feet planted on him, sticking her, big, red tongue out.

Plus, she’s all about change. She will flatten you and hand it to you while you’re still reeling.

Yeah. You really want to invite her to your birthday party now, right?

But wait! Kali kills demons, not people. Always handy to have someone who can save the universe. In fact, that’s why she’s standing on her hubby. She was fighting a demon that, every time it shed a drop of blood, it formed a new demon from that drop. It was impossible to defeat, until Kali drank every molecule of blood. Then she went on such a demon-slaughtering spree that Shiva was afraid she’d kill everything, so he fell at her feet. When she realized that she was standing on top of her own husband, she stopped her rampage and stuck out her tongue, pleased as a dog with two tails. So, no matter how destructive Kali seems, she will always pause.

Wars always end.

As Theodore Parker said, and Martin Luther King, Jr., summarized, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

And all those gory-looking attributes? Pretty perfect for a birthday, or at least my birthday.

The name Kali means time. Her three eyes represent the past, present and future. Nice!

She’s naked, i.e., in her birthday suit.

Her lolling red tongue means that she has a voracious appetite for all flavours in the world, and I love to eat.

The fifty-head-necklace symbolize the fifty letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, or infinite knowledge. I like learning, now that I’m no longer burned out from med school and residency. I’m on right now, doing a course in Modern Poetry.

Plus the all-important demon-slaying thing. I can’t say that I invited Kali into my life, but I spent a lot of my last decade reeling anyway. At one point, I would wake up and say, “Is anyone in my life dying today? [Pause to think.] No? Then it’s a good day.”

Every day you’re alive and happy is a good day. A birthday is just an excuse to celebrate one more revolution around the sun.

Thanks, Kali.